New CINA-CCICADA Project: Early Warning about Criminal Supply Chain Disruption

In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the FBI and U.S. Secret service issued a press release detailing the potential for dramatic increases of novel types of crimes that could arise:

“Swindles, scams, and outright thefts have long been a feature of major disasters. The more catastrophic the event, the more active the fraudsters. However, the COVID-19 pandemic provides criminal opportunities on a scale likely to dwarf anything seen before. The speed at which criminals are devising and executing their schemes is truly breathtaking.”

The Warning by the FBI and Secret Service Has Been Realized

This early warning has, unfortunately, been realized:

PPE manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies are fighting against counterfeit products and price gouging by setting up hotlines, taking legal action, and using technology.
Image credit: Wikimedia commons, Timely Medical Innovations, LLC

  • Unapproved and/or counterfeit pharmaceutical or supplement products have been marketed as “cures” or vaccines for COVID-19, and these include fake “immunity” pills and fake vaccines.
  • Unapproved and counterfeit N95 masks, protective gowns, protective gloves, protective eyewear, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) have been sold.
  • Unapproved and even dangerous sanitizing and disinfecting products are on the market.
  • Cyber attacks on the supply chain have increased, including even ransom demands on hospitals treating COVID patients.
  • Illegal hoarding and price gouging has been on the rise.
  • New phony equipment such as virus shutout packs and lanyards has been sold.

All of these things disrupt legitimate supply chains.

Criminal Organizations Disrupt Supply Chains Critical to Ending the Pandemic

Criminal organizations have previously disrupted and manipulated legitimate supply chains for financial gain and other reasons, and they will continue to do so. Such disruption and manipulation may take the form of blocking one or more elements of a supply chain to demand ransom, cause damage to the target, create delay or uncertainty, or motivate a redirection to alternative suppliers, or they may take the form of injecting counterfeit material into the supply chain and/or removing genuine materials. During a time of global crisis, the effects of supply chain disruptions or manipulations are magnified as already fragile systems and populations are under stress. Additionally, in the current environment, multiple supply chains will prove critical to ending the COVID-19 pandemic via the distribution and uptake of vaccines and treatments.

How to Detect Criminal Disruptions of Supply Chains

The Command, Control and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CCICADA) and the center for Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis (CINA), two DHS Centers of Excellence, have launched a project to develop methods and tools to detect active, pending, or past criminal manipulation or disruption of a supply chain, with specific emphasis on supply chain vulnerabilities during disasters. The approach is to model both supply chains and criminal operations, then merge those models to establish likely disruption or manipulation scenarios, associated indicators, and mitigation recommendations. The resulting analysis for specific supply chains will identify likely attack points, develop indicators which can serve to alert authorities and supply chain operators about a pending, active, or past attack, and provide recommendations to mitigate the identified vulnerabilities and reduce attack impacts. The resulting methodology can then be applied to other supply chains as needed.

The CCICADA team brings strong experience and expertise in supply chain modeling and analytics, to include the identification and mitigation of vulnerabilities in supply chains. The CINA team brings strong experience and expertise in criminal operations, to include the modeling, detection, and disruption of criminal organization structure and activities. The two Centers of Excellence will work together, leveraging their combined expertise and strengths to develop a methodology and apply it to drug and vaccine supply chains in phase 1. In phase 2, the team will apply the methodology to other supply chains, e.g., personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical and laboratory equipment. The project will deliver to the Department of Homeland Security both the methodology and analytic results for selected specific supply chains.

US law enforcement intercepted COVID-19 “treatment kits” bound for California and Utah Source: man-charged-shipping-mislabeled-and- unapproved-treatments-patients-suffering
Photo credit: ICE

Crime During COVID

The project resulted from a DHS University Centers of Excellence COVID-19 Supply Chain Initiative that was led by CCICADA and involved most of the DHS university centers of excellence. That project involved a series of seven workshops on such varied topics as Crime during COVID and Medicines, Vaccines, and PPEs. The workshops led to heavy involvement of numerous DHS components and other government agencies as well as the private sector.

The proposed project was motivated by the comments of speakers at these workshops. At the workshop on Crime during COVID, a speaker from DHS Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said that theft from legal supply chains leads to shortages or worse and called for new tools to help law enforcement. He described some of the tools law enforcement can use help with, for example: When counterfeit PPE is sold over the Internet, some corporation is manufacturing it. How do we find it? How do we detect hoarding and price gouging early? He also asked how we could determine how big a role organized crime is playing in this. A speaker from DHS Joint Task Force – West (JTF-W) spoke about the ability of transnational criminal organizations to change rapidly and exploit COVID. Other speakers from the Arctic Policy Office at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters and their partners at Trent University in Ontario and formerly from the Alaska Department of Public Safety described how the lack of infrastructure in remote regions has led to increased supply chain vulnerabilities during the pandemic, since for example air cargo, parcels and products were carried on vessels and became more vulnerable to crime, or because the Coast Guard’s domain awareness was diminished. A consultant developing hardware security technologies for DoD, mentioned the availability of and need for tools for understanding where a (counterfeit) part came from and ways to use social networking to expose counterfeit networks.

HSI is an investigative arm of DHS that is working against COVID-19 related criminal ctivity.
Photo credit: ICE-HSI
Office of Public Affairs

Further background came from speakers at the workshop on Medicines, Vaccines, and PPEs. A speaker from the ICE-HSI led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center described some of the health-related frauds they have been finding in Operation Stolen Promise, including unapproved and/or counterfeit pharmaceutical or supplement products and counterfeit or unapproved PPE and life safety products. Operation Stolen Promise was created to counter such crime. It partners with the private sector and with domestic and foreign partner agencies. A speaker from Merck & Co. highlighted the fraud detection program of pharmaceutical companies using advanced surveillance techniques to identify fraud early. Also, a speaker from 3M pointed out the importance of collaboration between government and the private sector in protecting against fraud and price gouging in the markets for PPE, and a speaker from Chronicled described the MediLedger project, an effort involving numerous companies and designed to defend against counterfeit drugs by tracking transactions carefully.

These descriptions of crimes against the supply chain during the pandemic, and calls for new tools for law enforcement and the private sector, led CINA and CCICADA to develop this new project. While the problems of supply chain manipulation and disruption for criminal purposes exist independent of a disaster such as a pandemic, they are exacerbated during a disaster. The methods to be developed in this project are motivated by examples of such exacerbation but will apply more broadly to all kinds of criminal supply chain disruption under any scenario.

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